With over 250 projects in 40 countries around the world, the extremely prolific Lord Norman Robert Foster (b.1935) is arguably the most successful architect of our time. Often (and increasingly) driven by a sustainable approach, his designs will doubtlessly have a lasting impact for generations to come.
Foster was born into a working class family and raised in the industrial city of Manchester, England. From an early age he exhibited an interest in architecture, drawing inspiration from his hometown, as well as from his idols Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier. Foster studied at the School of Architecture and City Planning at the University of Manchester (g.1961) and subsequently at Yale University, where he obtained his Master’s degree in Architecture. During his time at Yale, Foster was exposed to architects Paul Rudolph (1918-1997), Serge Chermayeff (1900-1996), and Vincent Scully (b. 1920), who all had an influence on his work throughout his career.
In 1963, Foster, together with Su Brumwell, Wendy Cheesman, and Richard Rogers—whom he met during his time at Yale—founded the architectural practice Team 4 and soon gained recognition for high-tech design. In 1967, after Team 4 had disbanded, Foster and wife Wendy Cheesman (d. 1989) founded Foster Associates in London, which is now known as Foster + Partners. In the mid-1970s, the firm gained international acclaim with its design for the Willis Facer and Dumas headquarters (constructed between 1970 and 1975) in Ipswich, England. Foster’s sustainable design included an open-plan concept that was radical for its time.
Foster had a very fruitful partnership with architect Richard Buckminster Fuller, which lasted from 1968 until Fuller’s death in 1983. They collaborated on several projects that focused specifically on environmental awareness, including the Samuel Beckett Theatre project (1971) in Oxford. By rewriting strict architectural standards into more “green” or bio-friendly terms, Foster paved the way for a new genre of environmental architecture. Using natural resources, such as light and ventilation—alongside celebrating the quality of life within the spaces—Foster is a master of using technology as a means, not an end.
His well-known projects include the Millennium Tower in Japan (1989); the Reichstag in Berlin (1992-1999); 30 St. Mary Ace in London, known colloquially as the London Gherkin (1997-2004); the Great Court at the British Museum in London (1994-2000); and the World Trade Center in New York (2002). Beyond Foster’s many architectural accomplishments, he also maintains a successful career in furniture design, with standouts like Nomos Table (1987) for Tecno, Airline Seating System (1999) for Vitra, 505 Sofa and Table Series (2002) for Walter Knoll, RF1 Stacking Chair (2006) for Randers, and the Teso Table (2013) for Molteni.
Over the course of his illustrious career, Foster has received many awards and accolades, including the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture (1983), the Gold Medal of the Academy of Architecture of France (1991), the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal (1994), the 21st Pritzker Architect Prize Laureate (1999), and the Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts (2009). He was knighted by the Queen of England in 1990 and given the title ‘Lord Foster of Thames Bank’ in 1999.
Today, Foster + Partners’ work spans a wide array of projects, from urban masterplans and public infrastructure to private housing and furniture design. If you are curious to hear more about Foster’s own thoughts on the future of design, check out his TED Talk for the 2007 DLD Conference in Munich, titled Norman Foster: My Green Agenda for Architecture. Here he discusses how architects can use computers to create pollution-free design.